Two weeks ago, Chris Penn blogged his 11 Little Secrets to staying happy, healthy, productive and sane. Quite a few other bloggers followed suit, so I thought I would give it a whirl. What follows is my actual approach to life, not what I think you want to hear or what is politically correct. And it’s not the obvious stuff like eat well and exercise. Let’s assume you’re adults and you’ve read that somewhere before. These are the 11 things that help me achieve peace in my heart and in my mind. I’m digging deep. This is an experiment. Let’s see how it goes.
Make joy a priority. When I was in my mid-30s I was climbing the corporate ladder and felt stressed constantly. I got into a discussion about it one day with an influential college teacher who always seemed unflappable. I asked him, “Well Bob, what is the emotion YOU feel most of the time?” And without hesitation, he said, “Joy.” This was a profound revelation to me. I had never even considered this possibility. So I made it a life goal to make sure that I felt “joy” most of the time. With that foundation, it really can effect your decision process.
Do good work. “Humble excellence.” Isn’t that a worthwhile goal?
Put your kids first. I know this seems obvious, but when you’re stuck in life, consider the answer that is best for your family. For me, it was always the right choice.
Take good care of your spouse. In the end, I can’t solve world hunger. I can’t even solve hunger in my own community. But I can have a profound impact on the happiness of that one person I’m married to. I look at contributing to a strong marriage as a primary mission on earth. Have a good one and there will be countless ripples of joy spreading in all directions. When you give to your spouse, you’re really giving to yourself in the long run.
Take God seriously. You don’t have to check your brain at the door to have faith in God. At my core, I’m a scientist, a data guy. And the more I learn and experience, the more I know God is real. As scientists probe the very large and very small in the universe, the response is increasingly “this is statistically impossible.” It is … unless you dismiss the obvious answer of a Creator. For me, it is liberating and inspiring to believe in God. I recommend the short video “Everything is Spiritual” by Rob Bell. A compelling thesis for God without a big-hair preacher yelling at you. That is not God, I’m pretty sure.
Live without regret — That’s different from saying don’t make mistakes. Of course we all make mistakes! But I am at peace that I have made the best decisions in the moment, even if they were mistakes, and that is not something to regret. I try to live in way to be proud of. My goal is to look back at my life and say “Yes, I did that well. I do not wish for a re-do.”
Stay centered. When the world wants you to be a bitch, don’t be. Feel how you feel but choose how you react. I find this especially difficult on the social web. It’s such a mind muck of politics and self-appointed blog-gods. It’s so easy to get pulled into that. Sometimes I just want to tell these folks how petty and narcissistic they are. But that would be bitchy, so I don’t. Well … usually I don’t. Stay centered.
Find a higher purpose. I’ve addressed the importance of marriage, family, and work. But my biggest adrenaline rush comes from teaching (I don’t do it for the money believe me), from working on a Habitat for Humanity house, or mentoring an inner-city kid. This stuff is easy to put off when life is so busy, but this is when I feel I am really leaving a legacy, even if it’s a nail in somebody’s roof.
Celebrate urgently. I often look up at the stars and think, wow, how much would I PAY to see this? Have you ever thought like that? What if the stars only came out once every 50 years? You could make a fortune by charging admission fees. Man, this world is FREE. Don’t take it for granted. Celebrate even the small things that you love.
Don’t do things that will make you die. I used to live more recklessly, especially on a mountain bike. Then a few years ago I had a spinal cord injury. I had an operation and one of the possible outcomes was paralysis. Gratefully, the long-term effects have been minor, but the biggest impact has been on my life approach. I have SO MANY things in my life that create happiness. I’m not willing to risk those any more over an activity with a probability of injury. I know some people will disagree with this, but hey, I told you this is about me, not you. I’m looking forward to a long life, not a crippled one. I still ride my bike … just in safer places!
Love one another. Here’s how I look at people. Every one of you started out as an innocent, beautiful baby. Then over the years, shit happened, it accumulated and forged something different. But at your core, you are still that beautiful little baby, right? Of course you are. So even when a person is a bastard I try to imagine them as an infant and think, “damn, I’m sorry it had to turn out this way. It’s probably not your fault. I want to try my best to love you any way.” We could solve a lot of problems if we all carried around our baby pictures.
So there you go. If you disagree, it won’t matter any way because my concrete is set. : )
I would love to hear your thoughts though, and maybe you’ll even write your own post about your 11 little secrets.